County Supervisors Want to Put Squeeze on Squatters
September 1, 2015
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) – Kern County has an ordinance that deals with squatters living in foreclosed property, but now county leaders want more rules aimed at this problem.
Supervisor Mike Maggard worries some situations may fall through the cracks of the current ordinance, and the board wants to see if there could be more tools.
Maggard had been approached by a neighbor who says there are people living in a house that’s been abandoned, but it’s apparently not officially in foreclosure. Chris Gonzales tells Eyewitness News he sees plenty of debris and items stacked up in the yard and next to the house, and nearby neighbors worry about illegal activity. He thinks the property’s in some kind of “limbo,” and that’s why the county hasn’t been able to act on his concerns.
In January 2014, Kern County enacted the Abandoned Property Ordinance, which requires mortgage companies to register properties they’ve foreclosed on and properties where they’ve been informed the owners no longer have an interest. County officials say there are now 383 properties on their list.
The mortgage companies are also required to post each vacant property with contact information for reporting any problems. The lenders are required to maintain the vacant properties, and inspect them once a month. Code enforcement officers say that process seems to be working well.
But, Maggard said the goal was a policy to help neighbors have tools to keep their areas safe, and he wants to look for more ways to deal with vacant properties that don’t end up on the registration list.
The board voted Tuesday to have county lawyers and code enforcement officials look for more solutions.
County Engineering Department Director Greg Fenton said they’ll tackle that, and he’s encouraged by the progress they’ve seen already working with the mortgage companies on this issue.
“Lately they’ve been very responsive, and they’ve been very cooperative, and we don’t have any issues with the lenders now,” Fenton told Eyewitness News. “As for those occupied by squatters, then that’s where it gets a little trickier to deal with the people aspect of violations. And, that’s where we need to do some more homework to see what we can implement.”
Maggard also wants to see if there could be more tools for law enforcement to check whether a suspected squatter has a legitimate rental agreement, or a fake. Fenton said they’ll work with the sheriff’s department on that.
County officials say so far, when complaints come in they try to verify the owner of a property, and inspect to see if there are any code violations. If they find the site does is not abandoned as defined in the current ordinance, and they don’t find other violations, then no action is taken.
As a concerned neighbor, Gonzales says that could leave squatters living in a house where ownership is “in limbo.” He hopes some rule changes can solve that, and said he’s encouraged by Tuesday’s action by the board.